RACE REPORT: Ironman 70.3 Muskoka (Ontario Canada)
It was to be my fifth half-ironman. The finish was going to be epic because I knew I would PR the run and bust the eight-hour mark that has been frustratingly elusive over the last three years I'd raced thatrace. My hopes were high but instead of a PR, I was handed a painful life lesson. Painful only because I felt humiliated. Yup, I know bad races happen. And the best course of action is to learn from it, deal with it, then shake it off and move forward. Which I have done and now a month later, I'm good, I'm at peace and I'm moving forward. Tomorrow (Sunday) I'll race again, at a shorter distance, but toeing the line nonetheless. Continuing my forward trajectory in this reckless, raging, wonderfully exhilarating journey of multisport. Here is the unedited, email, "semi" race report for Ironman 70.3 Muskoka that I wrote to my coach.
It is so much easier to write a race report for you than it is to tell you that I chose to DNF. Which is why it’s Thursday and I’m just now mustering up the courage to shoot you an email.
Going into the race, I was excited about the new course and even more excited about how my legs would do on the run. We kept it low key the two days leading into the race. I ate what I usually eat and got decent sleep and was pee-pale-yellow hydrated from when I stepped off the plane on Thursday until I went to bed Saturday night. Saturday morning I woke up anxious but shook it off after I rode and ran part of the course.
Sunday morning I was up at 5AM, drank 2 Muscle milks (total 320 calories) before 5:30 and had a GU (100 calories) at 7:05 AM and was in the water warming up at 7:15 and took off swimming at 7:30.
I woke up calm and focused on Sunday. Everything I did was calm/slow and intentional. I started at the very front of the pack (always do that, knowing that as a slower swimmer, I can pick up a draft by the first buoy) three or so people away from the buoy line which was on our left. I don’t like to start out wide, I need to swim as close to the buoy line as is possible to stay focused and keep myself from swimming off course when I don’t have someone to sight/draft off of.
The first five minutes is always tenuous, trying to calm the adrenaline, get into my rhythm, and find a draft. But this time was different. My adrenaline rush at the beginning of the race turned into unreasonable panic and just after I passed the first buoy I stopped swimming (stupid thing to do when you have a bunch of people around and behind you who are moving forward) and tried to calm the panic. I was so panicked that when I hollered for a kayak, my panic rose even higher because I knew he wouldn’t get there before I sank below the water.
Had to take a break there, because just remembering it and retelling it to you, brings back the terror.
I remember the first time I did an open water swim race five years ago. I didn’t sleep at all the night before and cried at the start of the race because I was so afraid. I didn’t die, but I did swim the whole way on my back crying off and on from fear while some really nice kayak guy allowed me to sight off of him as he stayed with me through the 500 meter course. The fear I felt in the water on Sunday was incomparable to that first race, it far superseded that first race. And I have no idea why.
The kayak guy got to me, talked to me for a couple of minutes and I let go of him and finished the course. Coming out of the water, I saw my time and was discouraged and shaken. I purposefully walked from swim-out into transition trying to calm myself and tell myself the swim and freak panic attack were behind me. That even though I’d gotten out of the water 11 minutes before my wave’s swim cut off, I could still pull off my goal of a sub 8-hour race on the bike/run.
I positive talked myself through transition and onto the road. But it didn’t work. In the first four miles, I dropped my chain three times because I was ‘panic’ shifting. By the fourth time, I was again in tears and chose to pull myself off the course with the next support vehicle that passed.
I tried to salvage it, but was unable to turn the tide. I couldn’t stop the panic train that started before that first buoy. This has never happened. Yeah, I’ve had crappy swims before and come back on the bike/run or I’ve had great swims and jacked up another portion. But I’ve always been able to shake it/pocket it and move forward. This time it was too deeply entrenched and I hate admitting this, but I was helpless to fix it/race with it.
Got back to Dallas Monday night. Worked from home on Tuesday and went to see the chiropractor and the masseuse for the post-race adjustment and massage Tuesday afternoon. Once I walked out of the masseuse, I told myself that it’s over, let it go, move on. I don’t want to talk about the feelings of shame and doubt about my abilities going forward. I’d much rather just put my head down and work toward Marine Corps. You said this is transition week in TP, I’m exceedingly happy to transition away from this. Using this week to realign/regroup.
I feel like I need to tell you “sorry.” However, when I told that to a close friend, he said to me: “it happens to everyone at some point. You have nothing to prove to anyone, just keep moving forward.” Doesn’t really fix it, but I still want to tell you I am so sorry for quitting. I didn’t know how to flip the switch from the snowballing insanity back to calm intentional execution, so I did the most (at that time) logical thing I could think of: remove myself from the stressor. Not a winning answer, but one that seemed right at the time.
That’s all I’ve got
Postscript: Back at the finish line, as I got out of the truck that took me off the course, a volunteer was waiting with my finishers medal, finishers shirt and finishers hat. I was ashamed and didn't want to take it. She hugged me and said, "you paid for it, you trained for it, you fought as long as you could for it, this belongs to you."
Outside of our training, it is on the wings of the love of our families and bottomless kindness and compassion of the volunteers that prop races up across the globe, that we as triathletes mine the strength and courage to move forward. Every year I've raced Muskoka, the volunteers have been beyond words wonderful. This year, was no different.
Thank you kind volunteer, your kindness and concern, palpably softened a rough situation.